Travis de Jonk chats with extraordinary Australian electronica duo Mass Experience about their fantastic new album ‘Pleasure and Purge’ and signing a multi-album record deal.
Back in May 2021, I had found out that Katie Little was going to be performing at one of my favourite occasional cabaret events in Sydney – Red Hot Retro. I was in the final weeks of season one of the Sentinel Speakeasy podcast which I produce for the Sydney Sentinel and I thought she would be a great guest to have on the show as well as promote the event that she was a part of. Katie Little is of course the daughter of the recently deceased, loved Aussie entertainment icon Jeanne Little. At that point, I knew she had a burgeoning career as a stand-up comedian as well as having written a brilliant memoir about growing up in one of this nation’s most famous families, called Catch A Falling Star.
I spoke to her before our interview to ask her about what she would be doing in her spot in Red Hot Retro, expecting that it would most likely be a comedy set. To my surprise, she said she had formed an electronica band with her husband called Mass Experience and that she would be performing a couple of songs off their debut album Sitting With Demons which had only just been released.
‘I’ll probably have the kids performing with me,” she told me.
“It’s going to be a hoot.”
I was a bit gobsmacked by so many aspects of her revelation. I immediately jumped online to have a listen on this brand new venture she had undertaken, with a slight sense of trepidation. I had no idea what to expect. The album totally blew my mind from the very first listen, with its stunning production, multi-layered compositions and the fineness of her beautiful vocals. I couldn’t believe it was their first album! It goes without saying that our ensuing interview was fascinating and resulted not only in a riveting article and podcast episode.
In the Mass Experience performance at Red Hot Retro, Katie and her son Tom were dressed in shiny gold clothes and bathed in hot pink lights. She sang two tracks live from their new album while her son break danced. It was brilliant beyond my ability to explain it.
What I quickly learned was how exceptionally talented, smart and creative their entire family is. They are like a wildly futuristic, post-modern Von Trapp family. All of them have so much going on in terms of artistic output, especially Katie and Tim – the dynamic electronic duo that make up Mass Experience.
Katie is a comedian, writer, designer and tarot reader, while Tim is a sought-after landscape photographer, racing car driver and composer amongst many other creative capabilities. However, it was (and is) music that brought them together and that they remain the most passionate about. Despite that, Mass Experience as a formal entity would remain 25 years in the making as other opportunities, circumstances and projects dominated their attention.
“I met Tim when I was 19. He was putting on raves and we were both sorta DJing. I was doing lighting and stuff at parties… Music is what brought us together. We ended up writing and releasing a record back then. But then things kinda got put on hold. Tim started becoming a famous landscape photographer and I went off and did other stuff like do comedy and write books. It was really the pandemic that squished us back together in the house… and so then finally we started making music together again,” Katie explains.
And it was only then, after all that gestation that Mass Experience was born. But they did have one brief stint at making music together back in the early 90s, Tim tells me.
“The only thing I ever really intended to do was be a musician. I always wanted to write music. Katie and I were lucky enough to write a track called ‘I Heat Up’ which got picked up by Fresh Records in the UK, and ended up being a huge dance hit – I only recently googled the song and found out it had been remixed by hundreds of DJ’s around the world and been re-released … and we never knew and we haven’t made any money from it.”
Since forming Mass Experience, Tim in particular has ramped up his music production not just for their collaboration, but for two of his personal offshoot productions.
“He is so prolific. I can’t keep up,” Katie tells me.
“I decided I just want to do one album a year and then work on remix projects. Meanwhile, he’s smashing out tonnes of stuff as Timothy And The Apocalypse and more recently The Time Medler.”
“It must be confusing for anyone interested in my musical career. I have three acts I produce for, including Timothy And The Apocalypse, Mass Experience and The Time Meddler. All three are releasing music at the same time. I’m not sure why I’m on such a tear now; maybe it’s the coming apocalypse or my future demise,” Tim jokes.
“With Mass Experience and our first album we came out through a small indie label called Marshmallow Pavement – which is a small indie label. What I discovered quickly is that the music industry now is completely different to back when I was last involved in it back in the 80s and 90s. There are all these companies that are out there now that basically just facilitate being able to release music. You pay them a fee and they release music, they get you a few interviews and it’s pretty much done.
“I quickly discovered that there’s not much more depth to it than that … there’s not a lot of promotion or push or backing or anything like that. The rest is pretty much left up to you. And I embrace that part of it. And I was pretty stoked with what we achieved with that first Mass Experience album – we’ve had over a million streams of that album. For a first album, that’s pretty good. The old school dude in me wanted a proper record deal and I can’t really say that it has exactly panned out that way … at least not quite yet.”
However, there have been some very exciting recent developments for Mass Experience. Just this month they released their second studio album Pleasure And Purge and on top of that have signed a multi-album deal with a major record label. Tim explains that things are still not quite as they would ideally like them to be.
“We are so excited to announce that Mass Experience and Timothy And The Apocalypse have signed a multi-album deal with Universal and Ingrooves. Ingrooves is owned by Universal but it’s another one of those outlets that will help you promote music but that’s pretty much all they’ll do. They’ve been good so far but I haven’t really seen anything huge yet from Universal,” Tim explains,
“What I’m getting from the industry is that these companies – Sony, Universal … all the big labels, what they are doing is just having a punt on hundreds or thousands of different acts and it’s costing them no money … it’s just a little bit of time … they’ve got a big team doing it … and that’s what they are doing with us. They believe that our music is good enough but they are waiting for us to have a big hit… a big break and that’s when they’ll get involved and promote it.”
Pleasure And Purge is yet another brilliant album. It was recorded at the famous Forbes Street Studio in Sydney – a location famed in the music industry that has also hosted the likes of Billie Eilish, Elton John, Keith Urban, Tove Lo, Flume, and Shawn Mendes just to name a few. In addition to the clear talents of Katie and Tim is their producer Chris Hammer Smith, Tom Stephenson who did their sound mastering, and Warren Wyatt from WorldSound all of whom believe in and consolidated their vision.
Pleasure And Purge has all the trademarks of the Mass Experience sound; Rich concoctions of retro psychedelia, multi-layered lush electronic beats and melodies, and of course Katie Little’s haunting, fragile and sexy vocals. It’s unmistakably a Mass Experience album. However, the first thing I noticed is how much more confident and cohesive the album comes across. The whole album is beautiful and more-ish. Highlight tracks – which not surprisingly also happen to be released as singles – include ‘Rise Up’ – a dreamy acoustic call to rise up to meet your destiny – and ‘Visions’ a captivating instrumental. ‘Born Trippin’ is also a personal favourite with a restrained thumping beat that builds up to take you to sexy dance heaven.
One of the stand-out tracks for me on the new album is ‘Hope’. It was the first track to be written and comes with a great story that Katie tells me.
“I basically had a breakdown last year from the stress of all the things that were happening and mum dying and the press surrounding it was so intense and overwhelming. ‘Hope’ was the first track that came out of that. Tim was urging me to write songs so I said give me some music and I’ll put down some lyrics. So he did and I went off to my room with my microphone and recorded,” Katie said.
“When we got to Forbes Studios they said the quality of that original recording was perfect and so that’s what you’re hearing. You can really hear the frailty in my voice and the delicateness of my message of hope.”
“Our first album – Sitting With Demons – was us really experimenting with sound and searching for our identity as Mass Experience. We explored a lot of territory with that album. We were really thinking about all the different people we knew and that followed us… the older gay crowd that we came to know through mum, the raver dance community we were involved with… we want to make something that brought all our favourite people and sounds together.”
“It became about uniting people and what really why we called ourselves Mass Experience – we realised we wanted to be a force that was unifying people. We are of the time before social media when people came together without distraction because of music and light and sound and each other. Pleasure and Purge is most definitely an evolution of our sound – a more steady and confident expression of our identity and sound as artists.”
“I think we’ve got a unique style in all the stuff we’re writing,” Tim says in agreement,
“For me, it’s more about creating a label and a legacy that we can sorta control in the future. I hope our kids will eventually get into being performers and musicians.”
It’s very clear that whatever ventures they mark on, musical or otherwise, will be a family affair.
“We are a creative household. It’s certainly the way I was brought up. Mum [Jeanne Little] took me everywhere with her so any time she was performing or doing anything or rehearing at home in the kitchen, I was always involved somehow as her backup. My dad was an interior designer so it’s in the genes,” Katie says.
“It’s a really cool house. The kids are all artistic and creative in their own right. Tom’s a dancer with the Sydney Dance Company youth ensemble. One day they might go ‘hey this is fabulous!’”
So is there any chance we can expect a Mass Experience tour featuring the music from their amazing albums any time soon?
“I’d love to tour the albums. There have been whispers about taking a tour over to America, and as exciting as that would be there are some realities that mean that it just can’t happen this year. Our eldest son is doing his HSC this year and we have to be there for him and supportive. It’s always a balancing act. But we are slated to do small local gigs in the meantime whenever the opportunity presents itself,” she tells me.
Opportunities such as the upcoming Red Hot Retro event are one such example. And while international touring won’t be on the cards quite so soon, the Mass Experience duo are far from lacking creative ventures they are already getting stuck into.
Never short of creative ideas and projects – they have bought a property in the country that they are currently doing up to both rent to creative people bu also to run photography workshops. Included in their development plans is building a recording studio and arts space, the purpose of which is to provide themselves and creative types to get off-grid and recharge and create around nature.
Zooming out and looking at the bigger picture, there is a bright future to be excited about when it comes to Mass Experience. Watch this space.
Catch Mass Experience performing live at Red Hot Retro – Saturday 18 June 2022 at Tap Gallery – 259 Riley St, Surry Hills. The bar opens at 6 pm, the show starts at 8 pm. For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/carringtonproductions
Travis de Jonk is the creative director of the Sydney Sentinel and the producer of the Sentinel Speakeasy podcast.
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